Those of you who have followed this blog, and especially, Good Boss, Bad Boss will know that a pile of evidence already shows that sleep deprivation turns people grumpy, insensitive, and dulls their cognitive abilities -- in other words it turns them into dumb assholes. An interesting newish paper adds to the pile of evidence.
A pair of interesting studies on sleep deprivation were published in the October issue of the Academy of Management Journal by Michael Christian and Aleksander Ellis. In both a field study with 171 nurses and a more controlled laboratory study with students, they found that when people suffered sleep deprivation, they suffered both a loss self control (measured with items like "my will power is gone" and reverse-scored "I feel calm and rational") and to feel more hostile (measured with items like "scornful" and "disgusted"). In turn, these foul emotional states led the nurses to engage in more workplace deviance, things falsifying receipts for reimbursement, dragging out work to get overtime, used drugs or booze on the job, said something hurtful to someone at work, and intentionally working slower. The ugliness observed in the workplace was replicated in a more controlled experiment with 75 students" half the students were kept awake by the experimenters for a night in the lab and the other half arrived from a good night's sleep in the morning. The results were replicated in the lab study, and the added twist was that the experimenters created a situation where there was an incentive for students to steal an answer sheet for a test they took, and there was more stealing by the sleep deprived students.
This study is a nice contribution because it uses two methods and shows that lack of self-control and hostility appear to be important reasons that sleep deprivation is so vile. I always find this kind of research quite disturbing because so many important decisions are made by people who are sleep deprived. This include thousands of doctors who are serving their residencies in emergency and operating rooms right now as well as the corporate and government officials who made all those major decisions during the financial meltdown in late 2008.